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Valles Caldera trust returns to public access

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By Roger Snodgrass

The Valles Caldera Trust took a few more jabs from its critics at a standing-room only public meeting Thursday night at the Hilltop House, while announcing plans for several improvements.

Trustees muted their recent emphasis on commercial development projects on the public property, and Gary Bratcher, the Valles Caldera’s executive director, said he was serious about trying to help Dorothy Hoard of Los Alamos realize her vision of a 78-mile rim trail around the entire Valles Caldera Preserve.

“The board has discussed the rim project, said board chairman Stephen Henry, “and we do think that’s a good idea.”

Preserve Manager Dennis Trujillo introduced a brief presentation on the preserve’s master plan for pubic access and use, which has been bubbling to the surface since 2007, and will be a policy vehicle for many long-term plans and decisions, including moneymaking projects.

Trujillo described work to be done on a six-mile stretch of back road along with deferred maintenance work on some of the preserve’s historic buildings.

The preserve’s website, which the Marketing and Communications Manager, Terry McDermott noted, did not have a search engine or a site map, will also come in for an upgrade.

After the meeting, Bratcher said the board had given approval to dip into its reserves to finance the preservation work and other improvements.

Natural Resources coordinator Marie Rodriguez said the preserve had received proposals from prospective contractors to do the public access and use planning process.

Later in the meeting, Ed Tinsley, the trust’s vice chairman, who heads the infrastructure committee announced that the contract had been awarded but the selection could not be announced at the meeting until all the companies were notified.

Apparently responding to concerns about the board’s emphasis on commercial development, Tinsley outlined “four criteria that we are trying to achieve,” which included making the preserve “inclusive” of all socio-economic classes, making it possible for “more people to experience the preserve,” while maintaining the “balance” inherent in protecting the “pristine asset” that the preserve represents for many in the public.

And finally he said, the purpose of the board was “to strive to be self-sustaining by 2015 – or at least to be moving in that direction.”

Preserve Landscape Architect Rourke McDermott announced that the preserve plans to launch a web-based program on July 6, inviting the public to weigh in with their views and suggestions during a two month public participation process.

This will be combined with three public meetings, and material gathered from a round of scoping meetings from two years ago to provide the substance for phase one of an environmental impact statement.

The meetings will begin in Jemez Springs on July 15, with meetings in Santa Fe and Albuquerque the following week.

Chairman Henry tried to speed up the meeting by limiting questions from the audience, which he blamed for causing the schedule to run over.

Some members of the audience found occasions to question the preserve’s priorities during the presentations. Others who wanted to participate in the public comment period at the end left before they were able to speak.

Jon Hicks of White Rock, left a written statement, highly critical of using tax payer money to provide public water and toilets at the preserve, which was read on his behalf.

Trustees made themselves available after the meeting to answer questions, but some members of the public were frustrated.

Betsy Barnett, vice president of Caldera Action, a citizen watchdog group that is part of a federation of environmental organizations, questioned the renewed planning process, noting that she had reviewed a document with comments from the previous scoping sessions showed overwhelming support for public programs and only three entries suggesting lodging or high-end camping. But the trust’s revenue enhancement plan proposing hotels and luxury camping credited the scoping process as a source.

She also said she believes the trust continues to misinterpret the founding legislation to justify their preference for the developments.

“I do not think that the act says that you must attain financial self-sufficiency at all costs,” she said, noting the explicit charge to “protect and preserve” the scenic and environmental values for future generations.

“We agree with you 100 percent,” Henry said. “I read that act every week and always learn something new.” Tinsley then repeated the four criteria that he said would be guiding the future development decisions.

The trust’s next meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 29 in Las Cruces.